Posted by: Ben | October 18, 2009

if: Spelunker’s Quest

A Z-code game in IF Comp 2009 by Tom Murrin

Maybe I have had a sheltered upbringing, but to me, “Spelunker’s” sounds like a terribly rude word. It also sounds like a terribly rude word to the editors of Urban Dictionary, but that applies to about half of the titles in this year’s competition and only Earl Grey sounds remotely plausible.

Before I review Spleunker’s Quest, I will preview the review. It is not necessarily going to be an especially thoughtful or well-written review, just as not every breakfast is necessarily going to taste nice. It will, however, be honest. And where it is not honest, it will be entertaining. And where it is neither honest nor entertaining it will have other quailities, although those qualities will not necessarily be positive ones. It is written in standard English and therefore uses singular ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun where necessary. It also contains TWO embedded youtube videos, so you may not want to read it on a mobile telephone, depending on your data plan.  It stands to reason that this makes it twice as good as a review that only includes one video, and infinitely better than one that doesn’t include any at all.

It begins with a quotation from the game.

After a short while, you hear scampering to the north.
The scampering draws near!
A large, unseen creature bites you fiercely, mortally wounding you!

Anyway, this spelunker, a term which I have now looked up and learned is the American term for a person who likes to go into caves, is on a quest. Not much of a quest. It seems our spleunker was exploring a cave in Brazil, possibly not long after a Carnival, when… something… happened. This person woke up in a tunnel, without any idea where they were or how they got there. They have the natural spelunker’s ability to estimate the diameter of any given hole (and the height of any given rodent), and also a compass, which distinguishes them from most other amnesiac adventurers. They are as good-looking as ever, which does not.  They have two choices, go north or go down.

I came here to spelunk, so I went down, which gave me completely the wrong idea about the game.  I was killed in the Room of Instant Death by a mysterious creature I couldn’t see.  It was like Alien, or more pertinently The Descent, if you’ve seen that. If you haven’t, The Descent is a great horror film in which an all-female group of, ahem, spelunkers, get lost in a cave and are picked off one by one by [cave-dwelling goblins].  Or an attack on feminism and a misogynistic affirmation of patriarchal values, depending on your perspective.   But imagine if we all went about critiquing art by awarding it marks out of ten depending on how feminist it was.   Or indeed any other factor.

Anyway if my first playthrough of Spelunker’s Quest was like Alien or The Descent, my second was more like a different film about goblins in caves, but the only other film I can think of about goblins in caves right now is the first Lord of the Rings movie and it wasn’t like that.  On further exploration the cave contained the following:

A crudely-decorated living room (which has lit torches on the walls as well as lots of what I tend to think of as waiting-room furniture, all in all it sounds less crudely decorated than the room in which I am sitting now writing this.)
A dead miner with dynamite concealed about his person. No wonder he is dead. Perhaps if he had thought to put a stuffed owl in his pocket he might have lived.
A garden-variety cave-dwelling goblin. I must admit, I’ve heard of a garden gnome but never a garden goblin. The other day I saw a funny little man sitting on a toadstool with his head between his legs, so I asked him “Are you a goblin?” The reader may insert their own punchline here.

But then, identifying a goblin when you see one is not as easy as it might sound, as this clip demonstrates (you don’t need to watch the whole thing, just go straight to 5:57).

(If you haven’t seen Inside I’m Dancing, you should.  It looks like it’s going to be a cheesy romantic comedy but it is considerably more than that.  In the US it was released under another name, but I can’t tell you what that name is because it gives away the ending.  And you wonder why people are generally cynical about art?)

This goblin, the one in the game, attacked me with an axe, despite having a machine gun under the mattress. Perhaps he can’t work the machine gun and only keeps it due to the typical goblin propensity to hoard shiny things, or is that magpies?

And that large unseen creature that bit me back in the Room of Instant Death? It wasn’t an angry goblin, or a crocodile. In fact it was the last thing I expected. An eight-foot rodent. Disappointing, because it could have been a ten-foot rodent. Or a seventeen-foot rodent. Nobody ever argued about the height of a grue.

What else? Well, there’s an action I would never have guessed in a million years (SEARCH WATER) but I’m reluctant to hold that against the game, because let’s face it, if I’m going to slag off every game I can’t solve without a hint then everything is going to get a 1.

To summarise, for people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they might like.  There is nothing much wrong with it but no particular reason to recommend it.  It is neither here nor there, neither nowt nor summat, neither feminist nor anti-feminist.  It is OK.

Next: The Ascot.


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